Friday, March 1, 2019

NO SMOKING AT RESTAURANTS AND ‘WARUNGS’: THE UNKNOWN EFFECTS ON REDUCING SOCIAL, CULTURAL AND RACIAL TENSIONS.


By Mansor bin Puteh


Even as a non-cigarette smoker who has seen some of my close relatives and friends who had died of cigarette-related diseases over the years, I find the latest move by the government to designate restaurants and ‘warungs’ and other related places as non-smoking areas to be very effective in the way it was established in the minds of the smokers and restaurant operators.


I had a good friend from my childhood days who smoked and in his adult he was diagnosed with lung cancer and was warded with a tube placed in his throat. He still forced his wife to get him a packet of cigarette and she did so and handed it to him, crying.

He forced his wife to see him smoke, maybe for the last time, and with smoke emitting out of the hole in the throat, and died few days later.

There are also those who only stopped to smoke after they had suffered serious diseases all related to cigarette smoking. Alas, it was all too late for them to want to stop smoking altogether now.

The most scary fact that not many in Malaysia would care to recognize is the number of Malaysians who die a year that totals around ten thousand; they mostly comprised of men and also women who smoked when they were alive and some could very well be those who you would know, as in my case, when I get news, very now and then, of some people I knew who had just died that is not announced by phone calls anymore like before but on Facebook with their photos, none of which has a photo of them with a cigarette in their fingers or between their lips.

How often I would look at these photos that make them look like angels, that they were not; and worse, some of whom might even be causing strangers to suffer health issues in their later years, with the second-hand smoke that they had emitted all their adult lives.

The threat of being fined RM10,000 and jail for up to two years, did the trick; it caused those hardcore smokers to seriously think of what calamity that would befall them if they are caught with just a tiny bit of cigarette stub in their fingers or between their lips.

In fact, when I looked at it, the rule could be considered to be ‘irrelevant’ in the first place because the licenses given to the operators of such establishments must surely specify that they are for the serving of food and drinks and no mention of how they can be places for customers and members of the public to go and smoke.

In fact, legally, there is no such place in Malaysia that allows cigarette smoking; unless if there are signs that say ‘Smoking Area’.

There are now such signs mostly at hotels and airports and maybe shopping complexes. But they arose mostly in reaction to the new laws or regulations imposed by the Ministry of Health, fairly recently.

Even airlines used to allow smoking at the last few rows in the cabins, including at some seats in the business and first class ones. But this too had been withdrawn and all airlines do not have such facilities and passengers now in ‘non-smoking’ flights.

But what many have not realized that the imposition of the ‘non-smoking’ law or regulation has more positive effects on the minds of the general public and not restricted to those who patronize restaurants and ‘warungs’ or food stalls and they mostly deal with their psychology.

It is just too bad that the psychologists in Malaysia have not yet said this: That the ‘no smoking’ law or regulation seems to have succeeded in ‘regulating’ the members of the public and more so those who have been smoking all their adult lives; that they is now a limit to such crass behavior of not caring for the personal health concerns of those who do not smoke.

The establishments are mostly patronized by many comprising of all levels of society and ages; and some may go there with unrelated medical issues and unknown ones that had not yet been established, which may be accentuated with their inhaling of second-hand smoke by uncaring smokers who did not care, because the authorities in the past also did not care.

And most of the time, there is this subliminal effects that had been etched in the minds of the members of the public who do not smoke and who did not want to chastise those who do in their presence and the presence of their families, because they feared that they might cause the smokers to be incensed as they would often retaliate by smoking and puffing even more since there was no law or regulation then that anyone could force them to stop or not smoke in such family-oriented establishments which had over the years become social focal points of the society, especially in the working areas throughout the country.

The issue did not happen in similar establishments in more respected places or areas, where such exhibition of personal choice in smoking had long been curtailed with social and cultural values that had been incalculated into them by various social means and media because they know people of the same social and economic stature as them frown on such misbehavior, so the smokers knew how to behave themselves even without anyone chiding them.

But this not the case of those in the working class and in areas where there are many factories and in more colorful where the full extend of the law does not seem to reach, so there is a greater level of freedom for them to smoke as and when they like.

The worse part is most of them smoke cigarettes that are made in non-descript factories in the country that pretend to get them from abroad, illegally, so that their premises are not raided by the authorities.

And the government officials did not want to say it, but the fact remains that most who smoke comprise of those who could ill-effort to do so with their low income working in factories and such establishments and whose take-home pay may not even allow them to enjoy a decent life for themselves and their families.

I just met an old Chinese friend who told me he had stopped smoking for four months and with two packets he spent per day before, he would have spent five thousand ringgit per year on cigarettes; it is a lot of money that he could now use for other meaningful pursuits and uses.

So in many ways, the new move by the government to force members of the public and patrons of restaurants and ‘warungs’ to not smoke in them, has managed to reduce such tensions, especially racial ones that many including the psychologists have not yet realized.

No comments: